Brewer profile: Kristen England of Bent Brewstillery

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Bent Brewstillery head brewer Kristen England // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Located in a nondescript Roseville warehouse that’s more cinder-block drab than exposed-brick chic, Bent Brewstillery plays by its own rules. The brewery–distillery blends bare-bones warehouse vibes with shiny chrome and dark wood details, calling to mind California taprooms that care more about their product than they do ambiance. The place’s vibe is unassuming yet meticulous, unique yet ordinary—impossible to pinpoint.

Bent’s head brewer, Kristen England, also eludes labeling. Built like a football player (which he was) and unabashedly blunt, England operates at full speed 100 percent of the time. Sipping on cold press coffee, his words speed up the longer he talks, galloping by faster than a Division I sprinter (which he also was).

England is the kind of guy you watch from afar, not wanting to interrupt his train of thought or crimp his creative process. The Michigan native says that while he’s adjusted to Minnesotans’ passive-aggressive tendencies over the past 14 years, that doesn’t mean he adds to the fluff. Outspoken, passionate, and highly motivated, England shares his opinions without hesitation, revealing a desire to shake up Minnesota’s craft beer scene by brewing underrepresented beers and encouraging others to do the same.

But unlike some who just want to ruffle feathers, England has a deeper mission behind his commentary. His ultimate goal is, and always has been, to educate the beer community, brewers and drinkers alike. And by any standards, he’s been largely successful.

Before beer, England was pursuing a career in pharmacology. He got his B.S. in biochemistry from Michigan State University and spent his junior year studying in Sweden. It was during his time abroad that beer really began to capture England’s attention. Between exams, he traveled all over Europe, sampling beer and asking questions of brewers everywhere from Belgian monasteries to German biergartens. He began researching the histories of different beer styles, drawn to the varying traditions and flavors of each region.

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A Michigan native, England says that while he’s adjusted to Minnesotans’ passive-aggressive tendencies over the past 14 years, that doesn’t mean he adds to the fluff // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Upon returning to the U.S., England began homebrewing. He passionately pursued his hobby even as he attended graduate school at the University of Minnesota. “I got into homebrewing big time,” he says. “I brewed thousands of batches of beer. Every day, even after work, I was brewing beer, no matter what.”

In addition to brewing, he continued researching his new craft. He’d drive or fly all over just to taste different beer and get as much information as he could. “People love throwing the word ‘passion’ around, but they don’t understand what it means,” he says. “It’s doing as much as you possibly can when you’re not on the clock to do it. I’ve always been someone who wants to learn as much as he can about everything.”

In his pursuit to know more, England attended a class to become a beer judge through the Beer Judging Certification Program. He was underwhelmed by the experience and particularly frustrated that there were no educational guidelines for instructors. Not one to sit on the sidelines, he took action. “I used to write grants all the time for grad school, so I wrote up a 20-page thing and submitted it,” he says. “I didn’t ask permission, I just thought, ‘We need this. I will do it.’”

That’s how his eight-year tenure as the BJCP’s educational director started. From 2004 to 2012, he built the BJCP educational program with the help of two assistants, became a Grand Master Judge, taught classes, and helped rewrite the BJCP style guidelines.

All this was in addition to grad school. England got his PhD in pharmacology in 2007 and obtained a fellowship with the Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Program, researching children’s cancer—specifically lung injury and rejection after marrow or cell transplants.

Next page: Pour Decisions and calling a spade a spade

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Ellen Burkhardt About Ellen Burkhardt

Ellen Burkhardt is a freelance writer. When she's not writing, editing, or interviewing, chances are she's on the road seeking out good food, drink, and fodder for her next story.

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